Sister Elaine Weber was born on January 2, 1926, to Harry and Olive Weber, farmers in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. She is the oldest of eight children, two boys and six girls, and she is the last living member of her immediate family.
The farm land was beautiful, first explored by a pioneer priest who was perhaps instrumental in a call that brought Mother Caroline of the Notre Dame sisters to start a school on a hill. Also, the first Capuchin priests in the United States settled on the other hill. Both sowed and cultivated the faith in the area.
Elaine attended Holy Cross School, a mile and a half from her home. As the oldest child of a growing family during the Depression, she had to work on the farm. “I could drive a tractor and milk cows,” she recalled. When World War II came, she took a factory job in Fond du Lac. Her life took a welcome turn when one day the village doctor, Dr. Baasan, came to the family’s home. “He asked me to work for him. I got lots of experience driving to homes and hospital, all the time dreaming about school.”
From the time she was little, Elaine’s faith had been nurtured by the Capuchins. She had always been a young Franciscan. Their monastery chapel was the local parish church, and all feast days were celebrated with great solemnity by the farmers in Mount Calvary.
By 1947, when Elaine was 21, “I was able, along with my dear family, to work on the farmland and to enjoy nature’s peace. There was sunshine, fog flowing through trees, wind blowing through grain and hay, storms blowing their energy.”
That same year, she heard a call. She wasn’t sure how it came, but it pointed her to service to God’s people. She wrote Mother Corona asking to join the School Sisters like her father’s sister, Sister Monica, whom she greatly admired. Mother Corona invited her to come.
She entered St. Joseph Convent as a postulant with a few others, recalling, “I had such good teachers.” She continued her years of study, graduating from Alverno College with a bachelor’s degree in education and minors in history and English.
A year later in 1948, Elaine was received and given the name, Sister Merle, after her brother. Her first mission assignment in 1951 was to St. Benedict School in Chicago, teaching sixth grade. She loved living in the community of 27 sisters with Sister Annunciata, their superior and principal.
After nine years, Elaine returned to Milwaukee to St. Lawrence School, across from the Motherhouse, again teaching sixth grade and often acting as a critic teacher for future teachers.
In 1965, her education ministry expanded when asked to return to Chicago as principal and Superior at St. Matthias. While there, she earned a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from DePaul University.
A call to return to Milwaukee came again in 1972. This time Sister Alphonsa Puls asked Elaine to assume administration and management ministry. That year she became the administrator of St. Joseph Convent, facing many challenges that communities faced in those post-Vatican II years. In 1989, she moved north to Holy Hill, the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, as assistant administrator to the Prior, and coordinator of human resources.
When asked how others described her, Elaine responded, “They said I was a good manager.” For those who worked with her and for her, she was known as having a deep sense of dedication, and she felt ownership for her commitments. She was a person of her word, and others knew they could rely on her and trust her.
She was always open to welcoming a wide array of people into her life. Being practical, she knew each one possessed unique gifts that could benefit them all.
After 35 years of leading and managing, she retired to Campbellsport and, in 2015, to Sacred Heart.
“One of the gifts the community gave me, and that I treasure, is that we have had good leaders. We were given formation and guidance in developing spiritual life: retreats, books, opportunities, and model sisters and mentors around us, and with all of this music to be with it all.”
“Being in my 97th year, as I reflect on my 75 years of religious life, I have loved my sister companions and living community life. I was happy in my work and responsibilities, which were never easy, but as it says in the Psalm, ‘You made my feet swift as those of hinds, which enabled me to climb the rocks’.”
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